I always believed that playing cricket was all about scoring runs and taking wickets. Everyone would be your friend while the going was good and you were obviously, only as good as your last innings. So then, I figured this was the mantra to remember when you're getting paid to play, or, more precisely, to perform.
But after a couple of years at Hem Heath Club here, specifically, and as an overseas professional cricketer in England for a few years now, generally, I've realised I've been hugely mistaken.
Please don't get me wrong, you still have to earn your living and perform every time you walk out with the bat or ball in your hand. The prime criteria while negotiating your contract for the next year is your performance that season. But from my little experience, I've learned that the people who get the best deals are the ones who bring more to the table.
These are the players who don't just perform on the field but also become part of their "family". Most clubs in England are social in nature - vastly different from cricket clubs in India - like extended families and it's mandatory to become part of the family to come back on a regular basis.
The first year is probably the easy one if you can acclimatise to the conditions. You're an unknown commodity. If you happen to be a decent player, you'll leave an impact on most of the people turning up on a Saturday to watch their new professional. Then off the field, as there's always a certain amount of curiosity around you, you'll see a lot of people making that extra effort to talk.
The English are generally a very friendly and curious race, at least on the surface - whatever they feel deep down below periodically comes out with time and circumstances. They want to know about your culture, religion, country, family and almost everything else. Before you realise, you're the centre of attraction for the entire club. They accept you as a part of their family.
If you've lived up to their expectations (which aren't really high anyway, so it's not that difficult) on and off the field, you'll be retained. So far so good but then comes the second year. Everyone is looking forward to seeing you after seven months, as you are too. But the excitement fades too quickly.
The formalities having been dispensed with by then, there's no extra effort from anyone because you're family! In all likelihood, even if you perform as much as you did in year one, it's almost certain that it'll not be appreciated as much and if God forbid you don't, the comparisons are quick and inevitable.
On the other hand, given this scenario, many professionals do jump to the conclusion that people are finally showing their true colours and weren't genuinely nice but that's where most of us fail to understand the psyche of these clubs and get it wrong.
The difference is basically in the lack of "newness". The expectations are already high on and off the field. That's probably the time to pull up your socks and be a value addition to their family.
A one-trick pony (read someone who seems an okay professional but not an okay person/human being) is probably doomed to fail and if you want to be appreciated, then hey, put in that extra effort. And remember what I said earlier: The person who brings more to the party invariably gets the best deal.
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